Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 11 and 12: Shadowplay
Written by Ed Whitmore; Directed by Andy Hay
The final episode of the fourth series, this two-parter marks what is very much the end of an era for Waking the Dead. Given that the events of this episode resonate throughout the subsequent series, I’m afraid avoiding spoilers is simply not going to be an option, so I’m going to be blunt: this is the episode in which Mel dies. Actually, it’s also the episode in which we see the last of Frankie, but people tend to forget about that because she doesn’t end up being thrown off a top storey balcony and pulped on the bonnet of Boyd’s car. In fact, Frankie doesn’t actually have an exit storyline at all: in real life, Holly Aird failed to give the production team sufficient notice about her desire to leave the show, and as a result there wasn’t enough time to write an on-screen exit for the character. Either way, though, this is the final time we see the entire original team together, and as a result I always find this storyline to be rather bittersweet.
For what it’s worth, it’s a very strong episode to cap off a very strong season. The case this time is that of a young woman with psychiatric problems who killed her family in an arson attack. Her claims that she was told to do this by a man calling himself “the Shepherd” arise interest in the team when they unearth two further examples of young women committing murder for the same reasons. Barring the similarities in the cases, there is a further connection: all three were patients of Dr. David Carney (Paul Kaye).
As suggested by the title, theme this time round is the Jungian concept of the shadow aspect: the notion that each of us has a repressed “other half” consisting of our fears and weaknesses, which we project on to others. The theme is given flesh in the form of David Carney and his brother Matt (James Larkin), whose highly competitive relationship is at the heart of the episode’s mystery. It’s threaded throughout both episodes not just in terms of the brothers’ relationship but also in the parallels between the various women that have been manipulated. The use of Jungian psychoanalysis is interesting and actually somewhat refreshing, given that media portrayals of psychoanalysis - Waking the Dead included - have a tendency to rely on the Freudian school of thought, boiling everything down to notions of penis envy and the so-called “primal scene”. I don’t claim to be anything of an expert, but from what little I know of psychoanalysis, I’ve always found the Jungian approach to be the more interesting of the two (although not necessarily any more convincing).
Anyway, psychobabble aside, what we end up with is a solid conclusion to what is, in my opinion, Waking the Dead’s strongest season. Given that it also effectively brings the first “age” of the show to a close, it can also be taken as a solid conclusion to that too. It’s cleverly written, artfully directed and emotionally affecting, and you can’t ask for much more than that. From here on in, it’s into considerably murky waters for the show as it is forced to get back on its feet sans two-fifths of its original cast.
PS. My apologies for not having posted more of these reviews. I’ve actually now watched to the end of Series 5, but other commitments have prevented me from actually doing write-ups for them yet.